The Learning Curve
XXXXXXX. How many Xs are there?
The garage is filled with smoke and a vague notion of drunk. My best friend and I have been sipping at our beers for awhile, though at this point we are still functioning. We each have a slight buzz, but are quickly approaching the line of intoxication. And within a few hours we will cross that line of too-drunk, sloshing out into the infinity of the night, the space in which we talk nonstop, but will never remember what was said. We sit chattering and smoking, and begin to count our ex's. This is before I met the woman who would become the second half of my second serious relationship, before the idea of her even entered my head. Before I learned the curves of her body. My friend and I count our ex's, compare the results. At this point in our lives our numbers are even with each other, each of us having ended seven different flings—the relationships that could barely be called that. We even share a few of the ex's. This, we laugh about. We are in our early twenties, and while we have been through a good number of break ups in the half decade we have been dating women, we are not deterred and still want to put ourselves out there, to gather women we can count as lovers. And the number of ex's will grow. Neither of us have dated women in the past six months, our ability to connect with women in the past year a difficult thing. After these failed attempts, we removed ourselves from the dating scene for awhile, but now as we sit in her garage we consider diving back into the web of lesbian lovers, hoping the count of ex's will not exponentiate any time soon.
Your friend just gave you twelve smiley stickers, now you have nineteen! How many stickers did you have before your friend gave you the twelve?
Best friend and I are at a bar. This is a few days after we counted our ex's and decided it was time to meet new people, to scout out potential girlfriends. In the strobing, pulsating lights of the gay club, I see a woman standing near the bar. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. A goofy-ass smile. I had been showing my own smile throughout the night, giddy when a woman glanced at me as she sashayed to the dance floor, laughing at best friend as she provided much entertainment with her jokes and observations. I am feeling happy, about as happy as I have ever felt. And then I see her. And just the look of her increases my smile, adds a thrill to the night. I do something I never do. I walk up to her and offer my name, my hand. She shakes it. Says hello. She tells me her name as our hands continue to hold on. And in that handshake she adds something to my life, some feeling that yes, I can do this dating thing. That yes, now I want to do this dating thing. That yes, I am ready to combine parts of my life with the parts of someone else.
There are 8 people in your study group, everyone showed up today but you and your friend. How many people attended the study group?
“Woman, when am I going to see you again?” Best friend asks this over the phone. Blonde hair, blue eyed girlfriend and I have been dating for a month now, and in the space we create consisting of a we, the rest of the world fades away. There is her bedroom with the tree-bed inside, the headboard that is made out of real tree branches. There are the blue tapestries that decorate the walls, the ones that banish the boring white paint, the ones that keep the beauty of us in. We are forever in that tree bed and forever surrounded by the tapestries inside. But now there are problems that arise. Best friend disregarded, the outside world no longer a thing we inhabit. The intensity of her and I leaves others out of our equation. We subtract the friends from our lives as the two of us together feels complete, whole.
You play with your friend Amanda for 3 hours after school 4 days a week. You play with your friend Crystal for 2 hours every Saturday and Sunday. How many more hours a week do you play with Amanda than Crystal?
I never thought I could scream this hard, never thought I would have an uncontrollable multiplicity of orgasms, of pleasure, of desire. My eyes close, my mouth forms an “O” and her flesh on my body brings forth this ecstasy. It all feels so new, the thing that has been building up inside of me for years finally coming through. The baseline of arousal amplified as she pushes me, licks me past my previous conception of the limits of desire. Pleasure multiplied beyond anything recognizable. And my hands grab onto the tree-branched headboard, pushing myself further into her face, bringing out that pleasure inside of me that she exponentiates.
You have 19 lollipops. You keep one for yourself, then give the rest of them away to your 6 friends. If you give each friend the same amount of lollipops, how many lollipops does each friend get?
A year into our relationship, she comes home from the bar one night, crying. I am not yet twenty-one, and so on some nights she goes out with her friends. I stay in the tree bed waiting for her return.
On this specific night she returns with tears.
“What happened?” I ask as I run to her, assuming she was assaulted in the parking lot, or something horrible such as that.
Her knees hit the ground, she continues to stare down, but between the sobs she finally lets out what she has done.
“I kissed someone else tonight.”
Her desire divided. How mine has been approaching that same problem lately. There is a different woman I too want to hold, someone else I cannot resist that divvies up my desire.
It is a month after she kissed the other girl at the bar, and at my twenty-first birthday party I am kissing my own other girl. My girlfriend sits on a beer-stained couch and pouts into her red Solo cup.
My desire splits, divides between the two of them. I cannot resist this cleaving of my love for two different women. I kiss twenty-one people that night. None of them are my girlfriend.
It is a week after that party, a week full of shouts, and now it is finally my girlfriend who I start to take out of the equation.
There are 4 drums, 12 guitars, and 2 pianos in the music store. What fraction of the musical instruments are drums?
I do not know why we continue to scream at each other on the phone. It has been a half hour, my voice now raw and sore. We are stuck in the thick muck of a break-up argument, both yelling how could you do this to me? The screaming and anger feels absurd as neither of us wants to be a part of our we any more. We have divided ourselves from each other, are in the final push of the inevitable split.
My recognition of a broken relationship fractures my heart into bits, that muscle that used to beat the rhythm of her name now fissured. The parts of us that at one point felt complete, now shattered, fractured. And nothing adds up, the idea of a whole unit of we now just a far-flung fantasy.
You spend 36 ½ hours each week at work, and 10 ½ hours each week spending time with your friend. How many more hours a week do you work than being with your friend?
A year after I met my now-ex-girlfriend, best friend and I return to our spot against the wall at the gay bar. It's good to be with her again, to have her standing next to me as I have another ex to count in my life, as I learn how to suture myself back together, to become whole again and wanting to mix myself into the dating scene, again, finally.
As best friend and I hang our bodies on the wall of the club, I flashback to the last time I was here, when I stuck my hand out to a beautiful woman who grabbed it and introduced herself. And now she is gone. And now the memory of her sporadically penetrates my mind. Her blond hair. Her blue eyes. That goofy-ass smile.
I stand there and I compare all of the women in this bar to her. Each one falls short of my initial reaction to when I first saw my now ex-girlfriend. And I start to get nostalgic, start to think that she will always be so much more than whoever the next “she” will be.
Mixed feelings arise. How I loved her. How I don't any more. The lights strobe, pulsate around us, and even in my recollections I still cannot find the piece of my heart with her name on it. Emotions urged me to stay, to not give up. But the evidence stacked itself against the idea of “us.” The want for something else, how the fizzling out attraction became the route of my leaving. Mixed feelings remain, large parts of emotions shift around inside of me, but here I am, out of the tree bed, back in the outside world, back to meeting a whole set of other lesbians, of inserting myself into their lives.
The sum of two numbers is 16. The difference is 4. What are the two numbers? Let x be the first number. Let y be the second number. (Hint: x+y=16, and x-y=4).
I finally accept how she is another ex added to the list, even though I'm still wondering why we couldn't work through some basic problems. But for awhile there we worked quite well together. And then in came the differences we could not solve, too much taken away to remember who we were as a unit, or even who we were as singular people. Before finding each other, it had been awhile since we were in relationships. We were rusty, could not remember the easy formulas for making a relationship work. What to do when other attractions arise. How to keep friends in our lives. We were stuck. We couldn't figure it out, didn't know how to approach the problems. Didn't know how to solve the why. And so we became another ex to count on a list.
Perhaps our time was just up. Our path journied. The equation charted. Put down your pencils. Turn in your test.